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Photo by AVRO (Beeld En Geluid Wiki - Gallerie: Toppop 1973)

Words, lexicons, vocabulary items, howsoever you choose to call them, are the small change you keep in your pocket for you to get on the omnibus of prose writing. It is therefore important that you as a craftsman of drafts know how to use them to get from one place (the inner sanctum of your jumbled thoughts) to another (an understanding or even appreciation by your reader).

The first thing is of course to know a nickel from a dime or a ten-dollar bill from a hundred. Confusing the two would inevitably lead to odd, embarrassing and sometimes disastrous consequences.

A local star tutor of the English subject once displayed this essay question in her advertisement:

Some parents think social networking website (sic) like Facebook is (sic) doing more harm than good on teenagers. To what extend (sic) do you agree?

To the extent that extend might be a typo, a parent seeing this should have second thought about entrusting her children’s education to this star tutor.

Loss of students is one concern; the reputation of the school is another. No slip is more damaging than this sentence in a letter to prospective students:

We are exciting (sic) to welcome you to the many learning opportunities and activities organized on our campus.

Words, like people, socialize in different circles. Upon the re-opening of the school premises after a period of renovation, a high school headmistress wrote to the parents:

May we express our sincere appreciation…especially to you as parents, for your faith, trust and support in (sic) us in the education of your daughters throughout these past ...months as we make (sic) a better campus for them.

The three words faith, trust and support share the same preposition in. But support usually goes to dinner with to or of. It is therefore preferable to revise this part of the headmistress’s thanksgiving to ‘…for your faith and trust in and support to us…’

Even when the choice of a word is correct in terms of its dictionary meaning, putting it in the context of others merits a second glance. An eminent professor wrote in an open letter:

(xxx university) is the holy sanctuary of my intellectual birthplace.

The meaning is clear, but a little more deliberation is warranted. The two words holy and sanctuary overlap semantically. A sanctuary is already a place used for religious or sacred purposes. Its modifier holy has very little to do and hence is dispensable. Further, a sanctuary conjures a safe, quiet and restful environment, ideal for the weary soul which has dragged itself through the mud of worldly concerns. To say it’s also where one’s intellectual achievement first started may be incongruous, to say the least.

In the same open letter, the professor further wrote:

…such actions will only bring out the darkest side of human (sic) and open the door for the intrusion by Satan.

The phrase ‘…open the door to Satan’ is clear enough. The part ‘for the intrusion by’ adds nothing to it except subtracting the economy and crispness of the expression.

Economy is a virtue in English prose writing. One sometimes comes across the following sentence in the notices or advertisements of governmental authorities:

Parties which are interested in seeking funding…may visit the website of…

If the noun phrase ‘parties interested in’ can do the job, why makes the reader mumble a couple of more syllables?

This article was originally published in No. 482, Newsletter in Sep 2016.

English language writing words